DJIBOUTI – A group of about 20 service members stationed at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, partnered with a local church to set up a makeshift clinic and treat minor wounds in nearby Djibouti city April 30.
The clinic staff was comprised of volunteer medics and doctors from Camp Lemonnier’s Expeditionary Medical Facility and a few people working outside the EMF who have medical backgrounds.
According to U.S. Navy Lt. Travis Harrell, EMF staff physician, the April 30 visit was part of a long-term volunteer mission to provide basic wound care services, and has been ongoing since September 2010. The group usually visits the Roman Catholic Diocese of Djibouti on a weekly basis to “clean, provide antibiotic ointment and dressings” to mostly minor wounds, Harrell said.
“Every now and then we’ll perform minor procedures such as making an incision and draining an abscess to help resolve infection and allow the wound to heal properly,” he said.
Usually, the medics see anywhere from 20 to 40 people each visit, with many of the patients returning for continuing care. According to Harrell, the patients range from small children to elderly adults, and many are refugees from various local camps.
Throughout the week, patients are cared for by the Diocese’s nurse, Sister Anice, who works for Caritas International, an organization that provides assistance to people in need in impoverished areas around the world. Sister Anice, a registered nurse and midwife, has been caring for patients for more than two and a half years.
Medications provided by the EMF clinic are usually approaching their expiration date and would normally be destroyed if not used in time.
“Instead of letting them go to waste, we use them to help the local population,” Harrell said.
At the Diocese, the room in which the medics see patients is small and cramped, but Harrell said he’s seen worse.
“I’m just happy to have a table, a roof and chairs for the patients to sit in,” he said.
For some volunteers, the opportunity to help those in need is an overwhelmingly positive experience.
“It is hands down the most fulfilling volunteer activity I’ve participated in while I’ve been here, and one that I truly believe in,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Rebecca Peters, CJTF-HOA joint medical planner. “It’s more than the CJTF-HOA mission. t’s about connecting with people who need and appreciate your help.”
The partnership between Djibouti and Camp Lemonnier is reflected at the clinic by more than just the medics assisting patients. Several attendees of the base’s English-language discussion group, during which base personnel visit with the local population to help them learn to speak English, attend the clinics to help with translation, Harrell said.
When a patient can’t be helped by the volunteers or Sister Anice, they are sometimes referred to the local hospital, and in some cases Caritas pays the costs. Others are referred to the Djiboutian Ministry of Health.